Candy Gourlay: Diversity is not about Difference…

The 21st annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 8 November 2014 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Belonging is… an exploration of the right to be included and the barriers that must be overcome’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panelists and parallel sessions.


Candy Gourlay: Diversity is not about Difference…

By Clare Elsom

The afternoon of the IBBY/NCRCL conference continued with the fantastic Candy Gourlay, author of Tall Story (2011) and Shine (2013). Gourlay vividly described her childhood in the Philippines and her deep love of books that began at a young age. However, in the stories that she was delving into, Gourlay revealed that she saw nothing that resembled her own childhood – no brown skin tones, no Filipino culture, “no coconut trees” which eventually led her to the heart-breaking belief that “Filipinos are not allowed to be in books.”

Candy Gourlay about age 6. Candy used this photograph during her presentation to illustrate her 'AHA!' moment that she wanted to be an author.

Candy Gourlay, about age 6. She used this photo during her talk to illustrate her ‘AHA!’ moment that she wanted to be an author. Photo credit.

One of the phrases that stood out from Gourlay’s talk, and echoed repeatedly throughout the day, is the need for “different ordinary worlds” in books. Any child needs to see their own ordinary world: their race, their gender, their hobbies, their disability, their emotional state, their family set-up…. and this needs to happen by natural inclusion, not with a gimmick or a specialist tale. (Gourlay mentioned that the specific pitfall for a story about the Philippines is to be disaster related.) All children need to be included in their literature, it is essential for them to see their own life reflected in the narratives that they read. In her talk, Gourlay referenced the popular Twitter campaign, #weneeddiversebooks, a movement that has kicked off many conversations in the US about the need for more diverse books that would reflect those “different ordinary worlds”.


As a writer, Gourlay had her initial novel idea rejected, largely due to the central characters (white, male, British) being so different to herself. Gourlay suggested that the feelings of exclusion she experienced from books as a child had followed her and led her to ignore who she was, even in her own writing. She became determined to write not only “what you know”, but to write “who you are”. This process led to the publishing of her award-winning, debut novel, Tall Story (2011), starring Filipino hero Bernardo. Through her presentation and her novels, Gourlay leads by example in workings for more diversity in children’s literature and reinforcing her own mantra: Diversity is not about Difference… It’s about Inclusion.

ncrcllogoClare Elsom is an alumni of Roehampton, having graduated from the Children’s Literature MA in 2012. Previously she studied a BA in Illustration at Falmouth University and has worked as a children’s book illustrator since 2007. Her most recent projects include the picture book The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie with author Jamie Rix, and the young fiction series Maisie Mae published by Little Brown Books.


About Erica Gillingham

Academic, Writer, Craft. LGBT Children's Literature. London, UK, via California ·

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